Books 3/28/06

A ways back, about a week or so ago, I finished reading The Unbearable Lightness of Being by Milan Kundera. It was a birthday gift, and a much appreciated one. I haven’t written about it yet because I’d really like to read it again before I do. It’s translated from Czech, and perhaps for the first time in my life, I wish I read Czech, because the translation is so gorgeous that I’d love to read it in the source language. Honestly, every word of this book is perfectly placed and specific, it’s difficult at times to believe that it isn’t the orginal.

It’s the story of four people whose lives intersect at varying points, and how they affect and are changed by each other. It’s also a mediation on love and connection, the concepts of weight and lightness, and how relationships weigh us down or make us lighter, and which of those is a positive.

Historically set as it is in Prague during a Russian threat, it covers a time period and area that I don’t really know at all, and as such, much of my reading experience was like reading a science fiction novel set in an unknown but slightly familiar world. This wasn’t really a drawback, as the characters and their relationships are so strong and solidly written, and their environment is well described and clear. I didn’t feel lost while reading it, just when trying to pinpoint the time period after the fact, but I will completely admit that this is my failing and not the book’s.

One thing that struck me was a sentiment of one of the characters that reminded me of something Gerald Murphy was quoted as saying to F. Scott Fitzgerald in the biography of the Murphys I just finished. In The Unbearable Lightness of Being, Franz is described as the following:

“Franz felt his book life to be unreal. He yearned for real life, for the touch of people walking side by side with thim, for their shouts. It never occurred to him that what he considered unreal(the work he did in the solitude of the office or library) was in fact his real life, whereas the parades he imagined to be reality were nothing but theater, dance, carnival– in other words, a dream.”

Gerald said, “For me only the invented part of life is satisfying, the unrealistic part. Things happen to you– sickness, birth, Zelda in Lausanne, Patrick in the sanatorium, Father Wiborg’s death– these things were realistic, and you couldn’t do anything about them. Do you mean you don’t accept these things? Scott asked. I replied that of course [I] accepted them, but I didn’t feel they were the important things really… the invented part, for me, is what has meaning.”

I don’t know what to make of that at the moment, but I found the connection interesting. I’ll write more about this one once I’ve reread it.

After the deepness of Unbearable Lightness, I went to the library and picked up a stack of books. The one I read on the way home was Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle, by Ron Goulart, a marvelously entertaining murder mystery featuring Groucho Marx and his friend as the detectives. Groucho Marx is his wise cracking self throughout the novel, and while all the wit is very well done, it made me wonder if this was lazy writing on the part of Mr. Goulart, or if Groucho was the character of Groucho in real life. (Or conversly, if he just played himself in the movies.)

I fully admit to not knowing a ton about the Marx brothers. I know who they are, obviously, and I’ve seen at least a couple of their films, but I don’t really know a lot about them personally, so I turned to my encyclopedic friend Gary Sassaman to find out what he knew. Gary informed me that Groucho was always “on”, and in fact couldn’t really turn himself off, and that this was possibly the cause of his 3 marriages falling apart. I can see how that would be hard to live with. This piece of information was very illuminating to the novel at hand, so thanks Gary! (You should all check out his blog at, he’s one of the best writers I know.)

The mystery itself was clever and the characters entertaining. The book I read is apparently the most recent in a series, so I’ll have to go back and catch up. Oh the torture. 🙂

I’m currently reading Swing by Rupert Holmes, which I’m quite enjoying. I have to read it before anything else because I bought it, and I have a bad habit of buying books that then never get read, but it’s really very entertaining. It’s a murder mystery set at the time of the West Coast World’s Fair, and I’m really liking it. And I just found out from Gary’s blog that apparently there’s a website with a soundtrack for the book, so I’ll have to check that out. See, Gary really does know everything!

Next I will be reading The Beast that Shouted Love at the Heart of the World by Harlan Ellison, and I’m very much looking forward to it.

Current total: 23
Just finished: Groucho Marx, King of the Jungle by Ron Goulart
Currently Reading: Swing by Rupert Holmes

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